Tony Youens has risen to prominence as a media skeptic on U.K. television making many appearances on day-time shows such as “Vanessa”, “Kilroy”, “The Heaven and Earth Show” and “Stigmata: The Marks of God”.
Youens’ interest in skepticism began when he saw the U.K. Granada television series “James Randi – Psychic Investigator” in the early 1990’s. This inspired him to take up conjuring and to read James Randi’s books. Youens’ interest in skepticism grew and by 2000 he had met Randi and has since worked with him, organising tests for U.K.-based applicants to Randi’s million dollar challenge and appearing on T.V. shows with Randi such as “The Ultimate Psychic Challenge”. Randi has referred to Youens as “our man in the U.K.” and Youens has called Randi “a huge source of inspiration”.
Youens has also worked with other skeptics such as Chris French, and his method typically involves posing as a psychic, an astrologer or medium (with the audience being deliberately mislead to this effect), and simulating psychic feats using stage-magic. He also tests psychics, and has his own “psychic challenge” worth 5000 UKP. In addition, he was a founding member of the U.K.-based Association for Skeptical Enquiry.
Youens is nothing if not confident of the absolute rightness of the skeptical position and clearly believes that skeptics have a monopoly when it comes to rational debate: “… I don’t expect to convince believers of the skeptical view. Despite all their claims to open-mindedness, I’ve never found one persuaded by rational argument”.
When asked about his qualifications as a skeptic Youens reply was: “… I would say I was for the most part self taught. I did get a third of the way through a philosophy degree but lack of time forced me to give up. Other than that my professional qualifications are not remotely connected with skeptical subjects generally.”
In spite of his complete lack of scientific credentials, Tony Youens has attempted to debunk the work of Dr. Rupert Sheldrake. In August 2005, with many subsequent repeats, National Geographic TV Channel broadcast a programme called “Is It Real? Psychic Animals” (also called “Is It Real? Animal Oracles”). In this programme, criticisms were made of Sheldrake’s experiments involving the parrot N’kisi, who appears to display telepathic abilities. The criticisms focused on Sheldrake’s statistical analysis. However the British Government’s media-watchdog OFCOM ruled that the programme makers treated Sheldrake unfairly for not allowing Sheldrake to respond to these criticisms and breaching their prior agreement to allow him to do so (Ofcom adjudication).
Youens works as a Health and Safety Training Officer at the University of Nottingham Trent, England.
Photo credit: Tony Youens’ Website